Freezing Berries

Here’s a quick tip for you.

When freezing berries whole, lay your berries out in a single layer on a greased baking sheet and freeze them that way before sealing them in a plastic bag.  Then they won’t stick together and will actually defrost in better condition than they would had you just chucked them straight in the freezer bag.  Tada!

Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

These are the Pie’s favourite variety of cookie, though he won’t kick any other kind out of bed, either.  This one comes from the Joy of Cooking (1997 edition, page 822).  It’s easiest to do this one outside the stand mixer, as the oats tend to tax the motor a bit.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Whisk thoroughly until well combined, 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.

In another bowl, beat 1 cup softened butter (2 sticks), 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 eggs, and 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla until well blended and thick.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth.  You will get quite a workout, I promise.

Gradually add 3 1/2 cups rolled oats.  At this point I generally give up the spoon and mix everything in with my hands.

Stir in (or knead in) 2 cups raisins. Alternately, you can add in a cup of raisins and a cup of nuts.  But that’s your choice.

Drop the dough in heaping teaspoons (or a small spring-loaded ice cream scoop, like I do) onto a greased baking sheet, spacing the drops about 3 inches apart.

Squish them down a bit with a fork or your hands.

Bake 6-9 minutes in the centre of the oven or until the cookies are lightly browned all over and almost firm when pressed in the centre.  Rotate your sheets halfway through to make for even baking. 

Let them firm up a bit on the sheet out of the oven for about 2 minutes before transferring them to a rack for cooling.  Makes a couple dozen.

Don’t forget what I told you yesterday – you can also freeze the cookies in tightly sealed plastic bags before they’re baked to save time later.  Just defrost them fully before baking them according to the instructions.

Margarine Chocolate Chip Cookies

Who doesn’t love cookies?  While I’m not the cookie monster that the Pie is, I sure enjoy making them.

This recipe comes from The Search for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie by Gwen Steege, and it’s pretty much the only recipe that the Pie and I use from this book.

It’s also the only reason we buy margarine, for that matter.  Well, that, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

This recipe is actually called “Chocolate Chip Cookies II”, which isn’t all that descriptive, so we call them margarine cookies, as that is the key ingredient.  The consistency of your margarine will determine the ultimate consistency of your cookies, so super-firm stuff will give you big puffy cookies, while the stuff that is more slippery will give you more flat cookies.

These cookies are also dependent on adequate beating with an electric mixer or stand mixer for their fluffy nature.

Keep in mind that cookie batter is pretty basic, and if you aren’t a fan of chocolate chips, you can stick in lots of other things.  When Kelly, Kª’s sister, was in town, I ran out of chocolate chips and so made a conglomeration of baker’s chocolate chunks, raisins, and nuts, and it was very popular.  While I called them ‘garbage cookies’ at the time, she has given them the more gentile name of ‘cupboard cookies.’  When I make these regularly I like to put in a combination of milk chocolate chips and semi-sweet chocolate chips for variety.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a bowl, sift together 3 cups flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda.  Set aside.

In another bowl, combine 1 cup margarine, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 firmly packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon water.  Beat with an electric mixer for about two minutes until it is creamy.

And seriously you have to wait the full two minutes.  If your batter is dark, you haven’t mixed enough.

Add 2 eggs and beat until fluffy.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of your bowl.

Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients a bit at a time.  Once all the mixture is added, beat for another two minutes until smooth and well-blended.

Stir in 3 cups (18 oz) chocolate chips.  I recommend doing this part by hand.  My mixer makes horrid crunchy noises when I use it for this step.

You can keep your dough covered in the refrigerator overnight or you can bake them right away.  You do have the choice.

Drop the dough in heaping teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheets.  I like to use a small spring-loaded ice cream scoop for this job.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the middle of your oven, rotating the pan halfway through for even cooking.

Do not over-bake.  Remove the cookies from the oven when they are lightly brown and crisp on the bottom.  They may seem slightly undercooked, but it’s a lie. 

They will continue to cook as they cool on the baking sheet for another few minutes, and they’re supposed to be nice and chewy.  Then remove them to paper towels or a rack to cool completely.  Makes a couple dozen.

Alternately, plop your dough in cookie-sized balls on a baking sheet and pop it in the freezer.  Once the mounds are frozen you can seal them tightly in a plastic bag, with baking instructions written on it, and keep them that way for a couple of months.  Simply allow them to defrost completely before baking.

Strawberry-Glazed Angel Food Cake

Angel food is one of my favourite cakes, always has been, even since I was a child.  My mother would rarely make it because without a stand mixer it’s kind of a pain in the ass.  With my lovely Kitchenaid this whole shebang is a breeze.

This is one recipe where I follow the rules to the letter.  You really can’t mess with the science of this cake. Angel food is basically an enormous meringue with flour and sugar suspended in it, so you have to be pretty rigid with how you make it.  You also absolutely NEED a tube pan or bundt pan to make angel food cake.  The batter won’t cook evenly without that empty space in the middle.  Trust me, I’ve tried it.  Bad things happen.  Tube pans are generally better to use than bundt pans simply because the tube on the pan is generally taller than the rest of the pan to allow you to invert it, or the pan comes with legs on the top that let you do the same thing.

I got this recipe a few years ago from Cooking for Engineers, and I think it’s fantastic.  It’s a good way to fancy up an easy cake.  The only change I made to this recipe was to double the amount of stewed strawberries, as the last time I made it I didn’t feel like I had enough.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

In a bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups cake flour or all purpose flour and 1/3 cup granulated sugar.  Then sift that stuff together with a sifter.  I like the handheld squeezy sifters because they make my life easier and they’re fun.  You want to sift your solids a couple times to make sure the sugar and flour are fully incorporated.

Now you need the whites of 12 eggs (about 1 1/2 cups).  You can either separate them yourself or buy them in a carton – the choice is yours.  Just make sure that if you separate them yourself you don’t get any yolks mixed in with the whites – whites don’t get all that fluffy when there is fat mixed in.  We’ll figure out something to do with the yolks another time, but until then you can wrap them tightly and put them in the freezer.  Bring the whites to room temperature.  You can do this quickly by putting the bowl of whites inside another bowl of warm water. Room temperature whites will make a bigger foam than cold whites.  FACT.

Put your whites in your mixer and let ‘er rip.  When the whites begin to look frothy, add in 1/4 tsp salt and 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar.

When the whites have formed soft peaks, whisk in 1 1/2 tsp vanilla and then whisk in 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, a little bit at a time.

Soft peaked meringue

When the whites have formed stiff peaks (ones that don’t droop), stop yer mixin’ and take the bowl out the mixer.

Stiff peaked meringue

Sift the flour mixture onto a thin layer on top of the whites, a bit at a time, and fold in gently with a wide spatula.  Be very gentle so you don’t disturb the millions of little bubbles.  Keep adding layers of flour until you’re out of stuff to sift, and keep folding until it’s all in there.

Fold gently - don't disturb the foam!

Gently scoop the mixture into a spotlessly clean and un-greased tube pan (grease + meringues = not so good).  Level the top with a spatula and ease it into the oven for 35 minutes, until the top is a lovely golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and immediately invert the pan.  I like the old wine bottle trick, where you invert the pan and stand it on the neck of a full bottle of wine.  Inverting the pan prevents the very fragile cake from collapsing on itself as it cools, and putting it on a wine bottle allows for sufficient air flow underneath to speed the cooling process.  Don’t touch the cake for a couple of hours until it is completely cool.  Not to fret – the cake will not fall out on its own – you didn’t grease the pan, remember?

The old wine bottle trick

While the cake is baking/cooling, you can make your strawberry goo.  You can also do this the day before, which is handy if you’re having a dinner party.

In a pot, combine 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and 8 oz frozen strawberries.  Now, the last time I made this recipe I didn’t have enough strawberries, so I decided to up the amount.  Therefore, I dumped in an entire package of frozen strawberries, which was 600g, or about 21 oz.  This was a goodly amount for my purposes, but it does end up leaving you with a lot of extra glaze.  I froze my extra glaze for some invention at a later date.

Anyway, stir your pot mixture to dissolve the sugar while you bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes.  I don’t recommend covering the pot and walking away.  Bad things happen.  My house still smells like burnt sugar.  Keep an eye on that sucker.

The strawberries should be super gooshy at this point.  Remove the pot from the heat and strain your solids from your liquids by pouring the mixture through a sieve into a measuring cup.  Make sure to get as much liquid as possible from your solids and set them aside.

Mmmmetric . . .

Return the liquid to the pot and bring it to a simmer again.  Whisk 1 tbsp corn starch into 3 tbsp water and pour the suspension into the syrup.  Bring the syrup to a boil again, stirring often.  This will activate the starch and cause the syrup to thicken.  When it does, remove it from the heat.   Set the syrup aside to cool, then refrigerate for a while until cold.

Cooling the goo.

Now back to the cake.  Once it is completely cool you can set it upright again.  Run a thin knife between the cake and the pan to loosen it.  Make sure to run the knife around the tube as well.  If your tube pan has a separating bottom, you can now just lift out the bottom panel and run your knife around that to free the cake.  If not, jimmying the knife around and jiggling the cake itself generally helps to get it out of the pan.

Knife that sucker.

Put the cake on a clean surface, and using a long serrated knife, cut the cake equally in half horizontally.  Try to keep your lines straight.

Cut it in half horizontally.

Remove the top half of the cake and set it aside.  In the bottom half, use a spoon or your fingers to scoop a shallow trough in the cake all the way around, like a wee moat.  You can eat the bits that you scoop out, mmmm.  Fill the moat with your strawberry solids, all the way around.

Fill the trough with solid goo. I mean strawberries.

Put the top half of the cake back on and pretend that you never cut it at all.

Take your chilled glaze and, using a spatula, silicone brush, spoon, or whatever is easiest, coat the entire cake, even in the little hole, with the glaze.

Blazing Glaze!

Put the glazed cake aside until you are ready to serve it.  A little bit of time also allows the glaze to set a bit.  Right before serving, whip yourself up some cream, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups whipping cream, with 1 tbsp granulated sugar and 1 tsp vanilla.  Over-whip the cream a bit so it’s stiffer and maintains its shape.

Slather the whipped cream all over the cake, even in the hole in the middle, until it’s evenly covered.  You can go for the smooth-looking approach by using a long knife, or you can go crazy with whorls and cowlicks and whatever.  I like to dump about 2-3 cups of fresh sliced strawberries all over the top and into the hole before serving. Oh man, oh man . . .

Slather with whipped cream and strawberries right before serving.

Cover left-over cake (hah, as if that’s even possible) with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a week, if it lasts that long.

Wrap the cake with plastic wrap and it will keep for a few days, though it will sag a bit.

Roasted Red Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Easy peasy pudding and pie, this recipe is.  Roasted vegetables are one of life’s greatest pleasures, and the Pie and I take advantage of the ease of this particular dish and make it wayyy too often.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Take yourself some fingerling potatoes.  We prefer the red ones, but the yellow ones are also good.  You can also use new potatoes or mini potatoes or even regular potatoes if you cut them small enough.  Fingerlings are best, however.  I used a whole bag (about 3lbs) for this dish and it serves about 9 people.

Scrub your little potatoes until they shine and cut up the larger ones.  I like to slice some in half lengthwise, and some width-wise, because they all roast differently that way and I like the variety.

Plop the potatoes in a baking or roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with a few pinches of sea salt and about 2 tbsp of fresh rosemary (or frozen, but dried rosemary won’t do this justice).  Toss with your hands until everything is coated with everything else.

Pop the potatoes in the oven and let roast 30 to 40 minutes, tossing/flipping them once, until the potatoes are crusty on the outside and tender on the inside.  Serve them up.  Also good cold the next day, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Steamed Asparagus with Lemon, Tarragon, and Toasted Almonds

I usually make this recipe with green beans, but I couldn’t find any good ones so I used asparagus instead.

Take about 1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds and toast them briefly in the oven.  Put a shallow layer of them  on the bottom of a pan or baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 425°F for 5-10 minutes, or until the almonds are the desired colour of brown.  Be careful not to burn them (because I totally did the first time).  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Strip the leaves from 4-5 stalks of fresh tarragon (or frozen) and set aside.

Cut the tough bottoms of a bunch or two of fresh asparagus off and bash the lower ends of what’s left with a rolling pin.

Chuck the stalks into a wide frying pan or wide shallow sauce pan and cover halfway with water.  Add a splash or two of lemon juice.  Steam gently for a few minutes until the stalks are bright green.  I was doing other things and accidentally overcooked mine a bit, as the photo shows.  You want them nice and firm.

Drain the asparagus and put it in a serving dish. Top with a generous dollop of butter, another splash of lemon juice, and sprinkle with the tarragon and almonds.  Toss until the butter is melted and serve.  Two bunches of asparagus makes enough for 7-8 people.

Freezing Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are rather expensive here in Newfoundland, so I’m rather loath to let them go bad if I’m not going to use them right away.

This trick I got from my mother, who, I think, got it from Martha Stewart.

Make sure your herbs are still unwashed, or very well dried.
It takes some THYME to de-stem these leaves!

Take your unwashed herbs to be frozen and remove the leaves from the stems.

Remove the leaves from the stems

Place the leaves in a resealable plastic bag and suck out all the air.

Chuck them in the freezer.  Now you will have fresh herbs on hand when you want them.  Simply grab a handful of frozen herbs and crumple them in your hand.  No need to chop!